The microbiome is being referenced as a key factor to a plethora of conditions including obesity, diabetes and anxiety. The scientific community has been researching the microbiome for decades. The research is finally holding validity and we are hearing more about the importance of our microbiota in the news and on social media. What is the microbiome? It is a diverse collection of micro-organisms that live both inside and outside our bodies. The microbiome populates our skin, nose, throat, gut and everything in between, with the majority living in our large intestines. While bacteria are the most abundant, other organisms such as viruses, protozoa and fungi co-exist as well. These organisms outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1, hence we are made up of more organisms than human DNA.
Everyone has a unique microbiome that is personal to them. These organisms have their own DNA that send signals/messages through our body. There are beneficial and non-beneficial organisms and the key to health is keeping harmony with all the organisms. Keeping harmony refers to having the right balance of the good and the bad. When good bacteria are destroyed, bad bacteria proliferate. Studies have already shown that the health of our gut microbiome affects not only digestion and elimination, but is also involved with the immune system, nervous system, nutrient absorption and weight loss. There is growing recognition that these microbes play a key role in infant and childhood development and immunity.
Many factors affect the balance of our microbiome. Diet, sleep, environmental exposure to toxins and medication are some that have a strong influence on the make-up of our flora. The food we choose to put inside our bodies has one of the greatest impacts on our gut health. The Standard American Diet (SAD for short) is devoid of nutrient dense foods. This negatively affects the diversity of the intestinal flora. Consuming plenty of colorful, high fiber fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains and lean protein will feed the healthy bacteria keeping it plentiful. Medications, especially antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can affect the diversity of bacteria in the gut thus causing what is know as dysbiosis. The addition of a probiotic while on medication can aid in replenishing and rebalancing the “good” microorganisms that keep our immune system strong. Sleep or lack of can negatively impact our microbiome as well as stress. Stress releases stress-related hormones that disrupt the microorganisms in the gut.
We are living during a time of uncertainty and this creates a sense of stress for everyone, especially our kids. Here are the best strategies to keep your kids resilient and keep their immune system strong and their gut healthy.
- Focus on spending time outside when the weather permits. Fresh air, sunshine and playing outdoors can positively impact the gut microbiome.
- Eat a rainbow of colors everyday: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Finding ways to incorporate fermented foods (kimchi, kefir, miso, sauerkraut) into the diet since these already contain healthy bacteria.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get a sufficient amount of sleep to allow the body to restore itself. Here are the AAP guidelines:
Newborn (0-3mo) 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11mo) 12-15 hours
Toddler (1-2y.o) 11-14 hour
Preschooler (3-5 y.o) 10-13 hours
School age (6-12 y.o) 10-11 hours
Teenager (13-17 y.o) 8-10 hours
Adult (18 + y.o) 7-9 hours
5. Get plenty of exercise.
6. Limit sugar intake as this will feed the bad bacteria.
7. Find time to laugh!!! As they say, laughing is the best medicine.
Cindy Wechsler is an Integrative Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She received her Masters of Science in Nursing degree from Yale University and has been treating children for over 30 years. She specializes in the natural treatment of common childhood conditions. Her compassion and understanding of the body’s innate ability to heal itself fuels her passion to bridge the gap between traditional and integrative medicine.